Written by Didier Bourguignon
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Only recently has the European Union been legally able to accede to the Convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora (CITES). Accession would allow the EU to participate fully in the work of the Convention. There appears to be a consensus between EU institutions on the principle of accession, even though the choice of legal basis is disputed.
The Convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) aims at ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species. It offers varying degrees of protection to 35 000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live animals, fur coats, timber or dried herbs. Protection may include prohibition of trade, or control of trade through authorisations for the import and (re)export of species covered by the Convention.
The Convention came into force in 1975 and now has 180 parties, including all EU Member States. Although membership was initially limited to states, the Gaborone Amendment adopted by the conference of parties in April 1983 opened up access to the convention to regional economic integration organisations. To enter into force, this amendment required ratification by two thirds of the 80 states then party to the Convention, a threshold which was only reached 30 years later, in November 2013. The European Union, which is currently an observer, can now become a party to the CITES Convention.
Regulation 338/97 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein is the main tool for implementing these provisions. The first Regulation regarding the implementation of CITES provisions in all Member States dates back to January 1984. The matters covered by CITES relate primarily to environmental protection, a competence shared between the EU and Member States, and international trade, an exclusive competence of the Union.
Expected impact of accession
According to the European Commission, EU accession to CITES is a logical and necessary step to ensure that the European Union is fully able to pursue its objectives under its environmental policy; it would also provide the EU with a stronger institutional basis for contributing to CITES projects and for assisting individual parties in their capacity-building programmes.
Accession would allow the EU to participate fully in the work of the Convention. It would also streamline and formalise the current practice whereby Members states agree on a common position, then vote individually during CITES meetings. As a party to the convention, the EU would vote as regards its competences (with a number of votes equal to the number of EU Member States) on the basis of a common position. Member States would keep their rights and obligations under the convention in respect of their competences.
As regards budgetary implications, it is expected that the EU would pay, based on the UN scale of assessment, 2.5% of the total amount of the CITES Trust Fund annually (approximately €115 000 in 2015).
The Commission proposed a dual legal basis for the Council decision on accession to CITES: Article 192 TFEU (environment) and Article 207 TFEU (trade). However, in its draft decision, the Council removed the reference to Article 207 TFEU. According to an opinion from the Committee for Legal Affairs requested by the Environment Committee, the proper legal basis should be dual (i.e. environment and trade). Though this view is echoed in the draft recommendation, the Environment Committee voted in favour of consenting to the EU’s accession.
Under Article 218(6) TFEU, Parliament’s consent (2013/0418(NLE)) is required to allow the European Union to access the convention. The draft recommendation proposing accession to CITES now awaits a vote in plenary (rapporteur Pilar Ayuso, EPP, Spain).